As a free-spirited 26-year-old, I support a wide range of lifestyles. But I’m just not into sharing the same dating pool with my mom—a fit, fun-loving, blonde bombshell of a 50-year-old. After all, the term “cougar” is only funny if your mother isn’t one.
A glamour girl in suburban Baltimore, my mom was bound for the ranks of “heartbreakers of a certain age” long before her marriage to my father—a great dad but an admittedly crappy husband—crumbled a few years ago. The object of many younger boys’ affections, she had the lifeguards at our pool drooling and my lacrosse player friends deeming her a “M.I.L.F.” By the time I got to college, I wasn’t fazed by the frat boys who swarmed around her during parents’ weekend. They would take turns spinning me and Mom around on the beer-soaked dance floor, until I told her it was time to go home.“Oh come on,” she’d say. “Let your mom have some fun.”
If only the “fun” had stopped there. Soon after my parents’ split, she adopted Demi Moore as her patron saint of post-divorce dating. “Good for them,” she’d say, pointing to magazine spreads of middle-aged actresses strutting around with their gorgeous, younger beaus.
“Don’t even think about it,” I’d tell her.
“What?” she’d ask innocently, suppressing a grin. But she had already caught the bug.
Her first victim was the cute 35-year-old golf pro from her country club.
“He’s fair game!” she insisted giddily, referring to my rule to not date anyone closer to my age than hers. I was more unsettled than reassured: I was a single, recent college grad at the time, and was well-versed in the ways that even the nicest-seeming guys could turn out to be royal jerks. I was afraid this young “stud” would tear my mom’s heart out. But my concerns weren’t all so benevolent. Wouldn’t Mom’s new fling be incredibly awkward for me? I got my answer the night my three younger sisters and I stopped by the party where Mom and her plus-one were canoodling in the corner.
“These are … your … daughters?” the poor guy asked, while Mom forced a mortified smile.
I understood her desire to shoo us away—I gathered that no single woman wanted to stand next to the living, breathing image of herself 24 years younger. Still, as she began dating the golf pro, I found it difficult to support a relationship for which my existence could be a deal-breaker.
Another night, I ran into him at a local bar. As he flung his arm around my waist, I wondered if he was about to hit on me. I half-hoped he would, so I could run home and snitch.
“Is he your new man?” asked my pal Sarah, eying this attractive guy with his arm around me.
“No,” I replied, wiggling out of his grip. “He’s my mom’s boyfriend.”
If I thought this encounter was uncomfortable, then I didn’t know what I had coming. A few years later, my mom fell hard for her 29-year old personal trainer, Jay*.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said when my sister called with the news. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the allure of a man his age. As a 24-year-old living it up in New York City, I was dating one myself. And I actually liked Jay as a person: during our few brief interactions—before I knew his relationship with my mom wasn’t limited to the gym—he seemed kind, polite, even thoughtful. But couldn’t she find a kind, thoughtful man her own age?
When I visited home over the next several months, I spied what I had to admit seemed like a healthy romance. My mom and Jay cooked dinner together, shared wine in front of the fireplace, went hiking, and laughed often. Yet I fixated on Jay’s age and appearance—buff, tattooed, and pierced. Never mind the fact that my mom had taken to riding around our conservative, sleepy neighborhood on the back of Jay’s motorcycle.
The ultimate test of my daughterly devotion came when Mom informed us that Jay would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. “Sorry I forgot to tell you,” my mom chirped. “Promise you’ll be nice to him?”
My sisters rolled their eyes as my face turned hot with rage. Yet, to my utter surprise, everyone was on their best behavior once Jay arrived. Mom seemed more at ease than I’d seen her in years. My grandmother, our family’s original tall, blonde flirt, even sidled right up to Jay and made fast friends. “What’s the meaning of this one?” she cooed, pointing to the tribal armband encircling his left bicep.
Soon, the whole crew was settling in at the dining room table, and Mom proposed a toast.
“To my family,” she said.
I watched a deep smile develop. She was glowing, calm, and content. In spite of myself, I raised a glass and toasted to her happiness, however young he was. I know she’d do the same for me.